I am the descendant of legends. Yes, I know that is a bold statement, but nonetheless a true one. I’m the 3rd generation of used car dealers. My dad’s a car dealer; his dad’s a car dealer; his uncle, my grandfather’s brother, is a car dealer. Yet, go back one more generation, and my great-grandfather was a Baptist preacher. To go from clergy to car dealers, now that must be the work of legends.
My grandfather is Elmo Baker, and his older brother is T. H. Baker, the sons of a preacher. As preacher’s kids are wont to do, they gravitated toward the wild side. They both loved ladies and making money.
Elmo is the type of man who wears a diamond-encrusted watch in the shape of Texas. He runs a veritable financial empire from a trailer office. He’s one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet, but he’ll never remember your name. He’s generous, but he doesn’t know when your birthday is. He’s a business genius, but he never stepped foot in any kind of institute of higher education.
For many years, Elmo lived in an undisclosed location, so that if anyone wanted to visit him, it had to be at his car lot. A little more than five years ago, his residence became public knowledge, because his health isn’t what it used to be. A few years ago, he had a heart attack, not his first or last. As the paramedics were loading him into the ambulance, he insisted that they let him call his broker about a stock he wanted to sell. Lying in his hospital bed, he told my little brother to take a look at the big ring his girlfriend Betty was wearing, and then said, “Most people look at an old man with a young girlfriend and think he might be rich. I want them to KNOW I’m rich.” Elmo and my grandma Mom Joy divorced over 40 years ago, yet she is still hopelessly in love with him. That’s the kind of charm Elmo possesses.
T. H., short for Thomas Houston, similar in stature and character to his younger brother, ran away from home as a young teenager. He made it to San Antonio, where he got a job as a dishwasher at Kelly Air Force Base. As a wily 16 year old, he married a beautiful 21 year old woman named Dorothy. She was not aware of his age, since T. H. was not forthcoming with that information. That marriage lasted long enough for them to have like 2 or 3 kids. T. H. has a total of 11 children from 4 different women, most of them his wives and then some of those kids are adopted. It gets confusing. Anyway, he was a man with great ambition, and dishwashing wasn’t going to cut it.
He took a job selling pick-ups at Don Benson Chevrolet. Clearly he was a man of great charm and charisma. How many 16 year old boys could get a 21 year old woman to marry him, after all? His “people skills” only improved with age, not to mention he was a relentlessly hard worker. Year after year, T. H. sold the most Chevrolet pick-up trucks of all the Chevrolet dealerships in the entire nation. After earning this reward multiple years in a row, in his opinion, he deserved a raise.
T. H. went into Don Benson’s office and told him that since he’d worked so hard and been recognized for selling the most Chevy trucks in the nation, he should get a pay increase. Don Benson was not of the same mind, telling T. H. that he hadn’t sold anything! Don Benson, the owner, had sold all of those trucks, and T. H. wasn’t getting any kind of a raise. T. H. told his boss that if he didn’t get that raise, he would put in a used car lot right across the street from Don Benson Chevrolet. Don Benson told him to go right ahead.
Elmo had recently returned to Texas after being in the Army for the Korean War. Fortunately, Elmo had won some amount of money playing poker in Japan. T. H. called up his little brother and told him to get down to San Antonio. They were opening a used car lot.
The brothers opened that first lot and haven’t stopped since. T. H. got into horse racing and bought a ranch. He owns 500 of the most beautiful acres in Texas, yet he lives in a trailer parked in the middle of it. Aside from the car business, he made a killing racing quarter horses all over Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mexico. For years and years, he’d have a great big Easter party on his ranch. There’d be an Easter egg hunt for the kids in the grassy field in the center of the practice racetrack. There was also an egg hunt for the adults. T. H. would get up very early Easter Sunday morning and hide plastic eggs over several acres of the ranch. He’d hide them in the Spanish moss hanging from trees, in snake holes, hollow logs, just about anywhere. This hunt was serious, the kind of serious that starts family feuds. What made the Easter egg hunt so cutthroat was that T. H. put money in the eggs. Well, he did at first, but then not all the eggs would get found, and there’d be hundreds of dollars lost in a pasture. He refined his technique after a few years and would write a dollar value on a scrap of paper and put that in the egg. There was one $50 egg, but there were many $20, $10, and $5 eggs. Dozens of adults would be running wild for hours looking for those eggs, which would result in bitter disputes and malicious quarrels. The egg hunt was also dangerous because there were snakes, stinging insects, and poisonous plants out there. Nonetheless, it was T.H.’s favorite yearly event. He also struck oil on his ranch. See, I told you he’s a legend.
After T.H.’s lot was up and running in San Antonio, Elmo returned to Houston and opened his own dealership. Elmo’s kept the car business going all these decades, with multiple stints in apartment building, house building, and neighborhood development. His favorite topic of conversation these days is the Stock Market. He keeps his portfolio jotted down on a piece of paper, which is folded and tucked into his shirt pocket so that at any moment he can examine and discuss it. Even after having a couple of heart attacks and being over 80 years old, he still goes to the lot on a daily basis. After all, a legend would never retire.
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